What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

What’s happening in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries?

The coronavirus pandemic has monopolized much of the world's attention for months now, but the conflicts and crises plaguing some of the most vulnerable countries have not stopped. In some cases they have only gotten worse. Here's a look at what's been happening in some of the world's most intractable hotspots in the months since the COVID-19 crisis took center stage.


Venezuela turns to Iran: For several years Venezuela has been mired in one of the world's worst economic crises, which has made access to food and medication extremely difficult for ordinary Venezuelans. President Nicolas Maduro seems to have weathered the challenge to his political power, but the economy is another story. The country's crucial oil sector, already gutted by US sanctions and mismanagement, has taken a further hit in recent months as the pandemic sent the global economy into a tailspin. As a result, even as coronavirus clobbers Latin America, many Venezuelans have expressed greater fear of dying from starvation than of contracting COVID-19. It doesn't help that the country is now running out of gas – and fast. Workers are waiting in long lines to fill up their tanks, while fuel shortages are preventing sick people from accessing medical care. This week, Maduro turned to another US-designated pariah for help: Iran. The Islamic Republic obliged by sending five oil tankers carrying an estimated 60 million gallons of gas across the Atlantic, a move Maduro hailed as a "victory."

Yemen's civil war grinds on: Last month, a temporary ceasefire between the two warring sides – Saudi-backed official government forces and Houthi rebels backed by Iran – raised hopes that Yemen's five-year war might be nearing its end. The truce had been backed by the Saudis, in what some analysts said was a sign that that the kingdom wanted an out: Oil prices are less than half what they were a year ago and the coronavirus is having a big impact on the kingdom's economy. Meanwhile, Riyadh's involvement in "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" was complicating its ties with Washington. (Congressional Democrats and Republicans tried several times to block arms sales to the Saudis over their involvement in Yemen, but the move was blocked by the White House.) Hours after the UN-backed truce came into effect, Houthi forces continued their drive to capture oil-rich Marib province. Since then, the fighting has only gotten worse, with the Saudis launching some 190 retaliatory air raids in recent weeks, according to the Yemen Data Project. So far, repeated appeals from the UN to halt fighting as several COVID-19 clusters have been identified around the country, have been ignored, despite the fact that Yemen has little hospital capacity to deal with an epidemic.

South Sudan's fragile peace: After six years of civil war that displaced some 4.5 million people, sparking Africa's largest refugee crisis, the nine-year old country of South Sudan has experienced relative calm in recent months owing to a unity-deal that brought rebel leaders into the government led by President Saalva Kiir. But sporadic violence between rival ethnic communities has continued in eastern Jonglei state, prompting fears that conflict could spill over into the rest of the country. In the first quarter of 2020, inter-communal violence killed some 658 civilians, while looting, mass rape and abductions have continued unabated, the UN says. These inter-communal clashes have been getting worse in recent years as fighters gained access to assault weapons. Now the fate of the recent unity deal hangs in the balance in a country where some 7.5 million people rely on some form of aid to survive.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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